At St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill, "practicing medicine now...

At St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill, "practicing medicine now feels like pre-COVID," said Dr. Stefan Muehlbauer, a specialist in emergency medicine.     Credit: Howard Schnapp

COVID-19's once fearsome growth rate has slowed significantly, said Long Island medical experts, who are eyeing a return to pre-pandemic normalcy and a reprieve for hospital staff worn down over the past two years.

Representatives for several Long Island hospital systems stressed the continued importance of vaccinations but said the number of COVID-19 patients had dropped dramatically. Catholic Health system Tuesday had just 37 COVID-19 patients, a sea change from the height of the pandemic, when Catholic Health’s St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill alone might have treated 200 patients a day, said Dr. Stefan Muehlbauer, who specializes in emergency medicine at the hospital.

As of Tuesday, Stony Brook University Hospital had 16 patients who had tested positive for the virus. Northwell Health had 230 spread across 21 hospitals.

"COVID turned the whole world of medicine upside down this winter, and practicing medicine now feels like pre-COVID," Muehlbauer said.

What to know

  • Long Island’s COVID-19 rate was the lowest in New York State, according to data Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office released Tuesday. 
  • Major health systems on Long Island said operations were returning to normal. 
  • Experts said it’s too soon to declare victory: a new variant could reverse the trend, and low vaccination rates for children and adolescents could allow for outbreaks.

At Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, the difference was "night and day," said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chair of the department of medicine.

There is a lot of cautious optimism, said Dr. Sharon Nachman, division chief of pediatric infectious disease at Stony Brook Children's Hospital.

"We’ve gone through the delta strain, the omicron surge, and right now, people are taking a deep breath," Nachman said.

Not only are the numbers of sick patients more manageable than they were in the pandemic’s early days, she said, but health care providers have more and better tools to use.

"We have treatments that can be given, outpatient as well as hospitalization. There’s the availability of testing at the drop of a hat."

From a public health perspective, Nachman said, COVID-19 will be treated like flu.

"We know we’re going to have a flu season next year, we know how to identify flu, we know how to treat flu. COVID will be the same."

Staff at Northwell Health are still required to wear masks but most hospital operations were returning to normal, said its chief of public health and epidemiology, Dr. Bruce Farber.

"Meetings, things we were extraordinarily risk-averse with, are starting up again," he said, adding that staff parties may return.

"We will be loosening those restrictions as we become more and more confident that it is safe," Farber said.

None of the experts Newsday talked with was ready to declare victory though.

"We’re in a very good spot but we’ve been in good spots before," Farber said. "We don’t know for sure that rates won’t bump up. That’s the nature of this beast."

Meanwhile, COVID-19 indicators continued to trend mostly positive, with 1,060 new cases statewide Monday, including 50 in Nassau and 34 in Suffolk.

DAILY POSITIVITY RATE

Nassau: 1.8%

Suffolk: 1.2%

Statewide: 1.57%

7-DAY POSITIVITY RATE

Nassau: 1.7%

Suffolk: 1.5%

Statewide: 1.51%   

Source: New York State Department of Health

Long Island’s 7-day positivity average was 1.57%, with an average of 6.62 new cases per 100,000 people over the last week. That was below the statewide average of 9.33 and was the lowest of the 10 regions Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office divides the state into for data reporting purposes.

On Monday, 17 people died in New York State due to COVID-19, including one in Nassau, bringing the statewide death toll to 54,869.

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